Analysis: Does Ed Miliband have any foreign policy?

By Martin Bright, September 28, 2010
The newly-elected Labour leader does not yet have foreign advisers

The newly-elected Labour leader does not yet have foreign advisers

So we have Britain's first Jewish leader of the Labour Party, and yet Ed Miliband's position on a key series of issues for the Jewish community remains something of a mystery. On Israel, the wider Middle East, radical Islam, the security of the Jewish community in Britain, his views are at best opaque, if not quite a closed book.

I spoke to two former Labour foreign ministers at party conference this week and they both said they had no idea what Ed Miliband thought about foreign affairs, and had never heard him talk about Israel or the peace process.

This is all the more peculiar, considering Gordon Brown surrounded himself with Zionists. Trusted lieutenants Ed Balls, Ian Austin and Tom Watson were all hugely pro-Israel. No one seems to have a clear idea of Ed Miliband's view.

There is one document that gives some clues, however. At pro-Palestinian fringe meetings at Labour conference, campaigners made a point of distributing Ed Miliband's message of support for Labour Friends of Palestine, published during the election campaign.

This message reads: "The major instrument for influence at our disposal in relation to the Middle East is trade policy. I am against blanket boycotts of goods from Israel. But Israel, and all countries in the region, must live up to the commitments they have made to respect human rights as part of trade agreements. The EU must be tough enough to ensure that these commitments mean something."

Although Mr Miliband is explicit about his opposition to a blanket ban on Israeli goods, the passage has given encouragement to those within the Labour Party and the trade union movement arguing to step up the boycott on Israel.

Mr Miliband also calls on Israel to lift the blockade of Gaza as soon as possible. "Israel has security concerns, but the blockade is the wrong way to address them," he says.

He is highly critical of the "events" on the SS Mavi Marmara, the Turkish ship boarded by the IDF in May, which he describes as "appalling".

At no point does he explicitly condemn or even name Hamas, although he does say that human rights must be respected on both sides of the conflict.

Ed Miliband, who was due to attend the Labour Friends of Israel fringe meeting on Tuesday night, also says he will visit Israel and Gaza as soon as possible as Labour leader. He should also use the first opportunity he can to make a major foreign policy speech, to clarify his position, before his statement to Labour Friends of Palestine becomes his blueprint.

Last updated: 2:52pm, September 28 2010